Former D.C. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Barbara Lang and former D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams recently offered advice to women on how they can be more active in the business and nonprofit communities as members of corporate boards.
Lang and Williams participated in a panel discussion sponsored by 2020 Women on Boards, an organization that encourages companies to hire women as corporate board directors, that took place on Nov. 21 at the Capitol Hilton in Northwest. Dawn Sweeney, president and CEO of the National Restaurant Association and CEO of its educational foundation, also participated and Leslie Ireland, board member of Citigroup, moderated the discussion.
The discussion occurred as 2020 Women on Boards released data showing Russell 3000 companies, the 3000 largest publicly-held companies incorporated in the U.S., had 20.4 percent of its board memberships consisting of women, meeting its goal for 2020. Nevertheless, women still only held 22.5 percent of Fortune 500 board seats even though 50.8 percent of the U.S. population is female, according to a study conducted by the Alliance for Board Diversity and Deloitte, a multinational professional services network. Ireland says women want to join corporate boards to make our country better for our families.
Lang, who led the D.C. Chamber from 2002-2013, told the audience of 200 that joining a corporate board “means being your best at all times.” She talked about how she became a board member of Piedmont Office Realty of Atlanta.
“I attended an event where I was one of the speakers in Virginia,” Lang said. “Two weeks later, a man called me and said he was impressed with my presentation and wanted to talk to me about joining his board. That was the president of Piedmont Office Realty that builds Class A office buildings.”
“When I told him I was interested, I didn’t have any idea what was going to happen. I found out they looked into my background and talked to everyone I ever worked for. I was accepted for board membership and when I attended my first meeting, I saw the board consisted of older, white men from the South. The president told me that I would be helpful to the company in the Washington, D.C. market.”
Lang said to the attendees to “remember that getting on a board is a long vetting process.”
“You never know who is paying attention to you,” she said. “Also, you have to be out there in terms of exposure and showing people what you can do.”
She said having a sponsor helps to get on a board “because they will be able to speak on your behalf.”
Williams served as the District’s mayor from 1999-2007. During his remarks, he echoed Lang’s comments regarding sponsorship.
“You have to get out there and get your message across and get potential sponsors,” Williams said.
He talked about former D.C. City Administrator John Koskinen who served in his administration and who had contacts with Freddie Mac that led him to serve on its board.
Williams also emphasized the importance of having allies in a board membership quest.
“I remember the effort to bring a Major League Baseball franchise to the city,” he said. “That required having allies with Major League Baseball, within my administration and the private sector to get that done. You will need allies to get on a board also.”
Williams emphasized that board membership entails hard work and long hours.
“Boards are a lot of hard work and you have to be committed,” he said. “It’s not a full-time job but you have to show commitment to your colleagues on the board to be effective and respected.”